King Liutprand of the Lombards, who ascended to power in 712, never fathered any legitimate male heirs to his throne. This caused a crisis around 735, when King Liutprand fell deathly ill and his court suspected that he might not recover from his illness. Although Liutprand had no sons, he did have many nephews, including men named Hildeprand, Gregory, Agiprand, Gisulf and Aufusus. Due to the king’s predicament of having no direct descendants, these nephews were considered strong claimants to the Lombard throne.
When King Liutprand continued to sicken around 735, the politicking and maneuvering began in the court. As Lombard politics go, the proceedings were surprisingly bloodless, and one of the nephews evidently was able to seize the title of heir apparent without assassinating any of his fellow kinsmen at that time. The winner, as the title of the article likely spoiled, was the first named nephew—Hildeprand.
Awkwardly, Hildeprand and his supporters, with power at their fingertips, were a bit too eager and jumpy. Hildeprand and his faction had secured hold of the position of heir just as King Liutprand was reaching the worst stage of his illness in 735. Under these circumstances, they outrageously got ahead of themselves and uncouthly decided to hold a coronation for Hildeprand while King Liutprand was still very much alive. The story of this peculiar situation was recorded by the Lombard historian, Paul the Deacon (c. 720-799), who wrote:
“At this time the king himself fell into a great weakness and came near to death. When the Langobards [aka Lombards] thought that he was departing from life they raised as their king his nephew Hildeprand, at the church of the Holy Mother of God, which is called ‘At the Poles’ outside the walls of the city…they handed to him the staff as is the custom…King Liutprand indeed when he had learned this thing did not receive it with equanimity, yet when he became well of his illness he kept him as his colleague in the government” (Paul the Deacon, History of the Lombards, 6.55).
As the end of the quote hints, King Liutprand did not die in 735, meaning that Hildeprand had to relinquish his regal staff and authority that he assumed while Liutprand was on his sickbed. King Liutprand of the Lombards would go on to rule for nearly another decade, breathing his last in the year 744. At that moment, Hildeprand repeated his earlier success and managed to ascend to the throne once again. Yet, he could not hold on to his crown. Eight months into the new king’s reign, King Hildeprand was deposed and replaced by Duke Ratchis of Friuli.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Image labeled Coronation of Abimelech from BL Royal 2 B VII, f. 38, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons, Europeana and The British Library).
- History of the Lombards by Paul the Deacon, translated by William Dudley Foulke (c. 1904). University of Pennsylvania Press, 1907, 1974, 2003.